Reston Town Center at Christmas

Reston Town Center at Christmas

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Why is what we heard about traffic & congestion last night so different that what the Reston Task Force heard before?

Developers may not have to pay for the burden their development places on Virginia communities, local governments.

Fairfax County state senator Richard Saslaw, a Democrat no less, is co-sponsoring a bill in the Virginia Assembly that would restrict local governments' ability to negotiate proffers with developers to build the infrastructure needed to support that construction according to an article in The Roanoke Times.  Here are some excerpts:

Bills that would limit proffers alarm local governments

Posted: Monday, February 1, 2016 4:06 pm
RICHMOND — Legislation working its way through the General Assembly would make it more difficult for local governments to force developers to pay for public infrastructure or change building plans, a prospect that has caused alarm among some local officials who fear it could limit sharply their ability to manage growth.
Bills have been introduced in both chambers to dramatically reshape the proffer system, which allows localities to extract cash payments and other concessions from home builders through the residential rezoning process.
The legislation would prohibit localities from making zoning decisions tied to “unreasonable” proffers; virtually eliminate localities’ ability to request changes to building materials or designs through the proffer system; and require more proof that new residents would strain services such as schools, roads or parks.
The legislation is backed by the Home Builders Association of Virginia, which says its aim is to restore fairness to a practice described by critics as “legalized extortion.” . . .
Under the legislation, localities would be able to require proffers only for schools, roads, parks and public-safety facilities such as police and fire stations. Parks were covered through an amendment to the bill, which would prevent localities from attempting to get developers to pay for museums, libraries and community centers.
The proposed law would allow proffers to be used only to cover costs “specifically attributable” to a development project, a higher bar than the “reasonably related” and “roughly proportional” standards currently in use.
“We think those terms are vague and loose and have been defined by the local governments to mean whatever they want them to mean,” Toalson said.
Henrico only uses architectural proffers, but other localities in the Richmond area have cash-proffer policies that bring in revenue to help in responding to growth. . . .
The full article is here.

From our perspective, developers' contributions to the communities in which they build fall far short of the offsetting the impact of their construction.  If they did, in fact, meet the full impact, we would not have congested roads nor overcrowded schools to start with. 

Even more weird from our perspective is why a Democratic Senator from Fairfax County would be sponsoring a bill that would make it more difficult for our financially-challenged County government to generate the revenues needed to make Fairfax a livable county.  Did Saslaw not get the word that Fairfax needs revenues?  Does he not realize that fewer proffers will likely mean higher property tax rates in the county?  Or does he just not care because he is so well financed by the developer community?

Apparently developers are just not making enough money and don't owe their communities anything for the opportunity to make their profits. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Exposed Sewer Lines Near Audubon ‘Health Hazard Waiting to Happen’, RestonNow, January 29, 2016

RestonNow's Karen Goff provides an excellent over view of the RA Board discussion of the eroded ravine near South Lakes High School, including exposed sewer lines, and the initiative Reston Association is taking to correct the problem. 

Here are a couple of excerpts from the article:
Erosion has contributed to the exposure of eight sewer line in the hillside leading from South Lakes Drive to Lake Audubon. If significant action is not taken, Reston could face serious environmental and public health situation.
That was the takeaway from a long discussion at Reston Association’s Board of Directors meeting Thursday, where the board passed several motions to commit money to study the issue and continue pressing Fairfax County officials to act on the issue.
“This is a health health hazard waiting to happen,” said RA land use attorney John McBride, who warned that recent events in Flint, Mich., where a money-saving effort to change the water supply resulted in dangerous lead contamination. . . .
At issue is stormwater runoff that starts at South Lakes High School and Langston Hughes Middle School, goes under South Lakes Drive and then through a steep drainage ditch running between Wakerobin Drive and Cedar Cover Cluster, emptying into Lake Audubon.
Years of runoff have contributed to significant erosion, which has left eight sewer pipes exposed, said Charles Smith of the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services. . . .
For the rest of this article, click here. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Big Money is Talking in Tysons. Will the County buy it?

In a new Washington Business Journal article headlined, "Cash vs. affordable units: This Tysons development case is worth watching," Michael Neibauer describes how Reston-based developer Renaissance Centro is seeking to sell its way out of providing workforce housing at affordable prices while building a huge luxury condominium complex called The Arbor.  Here is the gritty part of this article:
 The project's website describes The Arbor, with its large units ringed with terraces, as supporting an "active, urban lifestyle indicative of the newly urban Tysons." The site design includes pedestrian paths winding around the building and connecting with Lerner Enterprises' Tysons II expansion.
Fairfax County's comprehensive plan for Tysons, also known as the Tysons Plan, places a premium on workforce housing — those units affordable to households with incomes ranging from 60 percent to 120 percent of the area median income. For providing workforce dwelling units, or WDUs, developers can achieve a 20 percent bonus density.
Renaissance Centro, the contract purchaser of Block D, has offered two options to reach the density it proposes for The Arbor. The decision, according to the list of proffers, is theirs, not the county's.
One option is to provide 20 percent of the units as WDUs, though if those units don't sell in relatively short order, Renaissance Centro would have the option to flip them to market-rate. The difference between the for-sale WDU price and the market-rate price would be contributed to the county.
The second option is simply a cash contribution to a new Tysons Affordable Housing Trust Fund, generally equal to 1.5 percent of the sales prices of all units at The Arbor, plus 1 percent of the net base sales price paid in installments. But the Tysons Plan is wary of cash in lieu of affordable housing, noting explicitly it is "not desired."
Staff does not believe, per the report, "that bonus intensity or height should be granted to the applicant for the provision of workforce dwellings when no actual workforce dwelling units are being provided in the building."
So it's up to the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors just how serious they are about keeping some affordable housing in Tysons or whether they will settle for money to address their budget problem, which is a problem of too much spending, not a problem of too little revenue.   

It's an excellent article.  Click here to read the rest

Thursday, January 21, 2016

To Reverse Ridership Declines, Metro Pins Hopes On Development Around Stations, WAMU, January 19, 2016

Martin DiCaro, WAMU's transportation reporter, wrote an excellent article on Metrorail's hopes that development around its stations will increase ridership, citing Reston's Wiehle Station area as an example.  The "hope" is based on a transportation study done by the University of Maryland showing that jobs and residences near Metro contribute to its ridership base.  We would put two caveats on that result:
  • Jobs and new residences must be created.  In the current national political climate of reduced federal spending, it is not at all clear when (or if) the Washington area's growth--well behind national averages--will increase.
  • Metro must be safe and reliable.  We hope the new general manager can make that happen, but we don't expect any significant improvements in the near term with rail car deliveries slow and the need to improve the safety of railway's infrastructure.  
Here is how DiCaro's article begins:

Will future real estate development guarantee a return of Metro’s lost riders?

The problems plaguing the second-busiest subway system in America are well-documented: an economic downturn and federal budget sequestration led to fewer rides; the reduction of a pre-tax transit benefit, provided by more than 5,000 employers, from $255 to $130 per month also contributed to the decline; and for the first time last year the transit authority admitted that consistently unreliable service — some could describe it as terrible — has alienated commuters.

Since its peak in 2008, when Metrorail recorded 750,000 trips on the average weekday, ridership is down 5 percent.
But Metro’s leaders believe riders will return, pointing to development either underway or planned within close proximity — defined as a half-mile walking distance — of rail stations across the region. Moreover, while overall ridership is down, more people are using the core stations in downtown D.C., as any regular rider can attest during a typical rush hour of packed platforms and crowded trains.

To help Metro determine how to set fares, researchers at the University of Maryland developed a new ridership model that analyzes how the location of jobs and homes will impact the system’s already strained capacity.

Click here for the rest of this article.  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Deja Vu All Over Again: What happens in Annandale also happens in Reston.

The following is a re-post of post on the Annandale VA blog concerning the Board of Supervisors' consideration of a redevelopment proposal managed with little (or no) public input that involves, among other things, throwing homeless people out of an existing shelter.  It is hard to see the difference between the way this deal is proceeding and the way the Board is proceeding with the Reston Town Center North PPP, planning for the Embry Rucker Shelter, the Reston Regional Library, issues with the deeds surrounding the RTCN land, etc.  The problem of the lack of transparency in Board activities and intentions and the lack of real public outreach (which includes listening and considering public concerns) appears to be systemic among the Supervisors.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Board of Supervisors defers decision on Bailey's Crossroads land swap

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors deferred a decision on the Southeast Quadrant land swap in Bailey’s Crossroads until Feb. 2.The delay will provide time for the board to review last-minute information on some “contractual tweaks,” said Mason Supervisor Penny Gross at the Jan. 12 BoS session.

The real estate exchange would spur revitalization of a blighted area along Columbia Pike, and Gross said she’s been working on plans to redevelop the Southeast Quadrant since 2002.

In general,  the deal calls for Fairfax County to swap land with AvalonBay and purchase the Landmark property next to Radley Acura. If the land swap is approved, AvalonBay would build a 375-unit apartment building on the site of the Bailey’s Crossroads Community Shelter, which would be relocated.

A new road would connect Seminary Road with Columbia Pike, and the county would build a new East County Government Center.

Several residents who spoke at the BoS hearing urged the supervisors to reject the land swap. Residents said they support revitalization in the Southeast Quadrant but raised concerns about the relocation of the homeless shelter, the lack of time for public feedback, the lack of transparency, and questioned the need for a new county office building.   (Emphasis added.)

Debbie Smith, chair of the Mason District Council of Community Associations (MDC), asked the supervisors to delay a decision on the land swap “until the community is given a reasonable amount of time to review it.” She said residents only had two business days to examine the land swap since a community meeting last week and still don’t have information on a lot of the details.

Smith called on the county to consider alternative sites for an East County office building, noting that Bailey’s Crossroads has an office vacancy rate of 47 percent and that BoS Chair Sharon Bulova has formed a working group to explore ways to repurpose vacant office buildings. She suggested the county look at the vacant building at 5600 Columbia Pike, where a proposal for an apartment building fell through.

Clyde Miller, president of the Holmes Run Valley Citizens Association, said there’s no reason for VDOT to spend $7 million in road improvements without a traffic analysis showing a new road is needed, there’s no proof that the county needs a new office building, and the homeless shelter shouldn’t be moved until a permanent location is found.

County officials are negotiating for a temporary site for the shelter until they can find a suitable location for a permanent site that also includes transitional housing for the homeless.

The county has not announced the site of the temporary shelter, pending a final agreement with the landowner, but local residents believe it is on the property of the First Christian Church at 6165 Leesburg Pike in Seven Corners.

Denise Patton told the supervisors she welcomes revitalization but “it’s the nature and quality of the revitalization that is the issue for me.” She questioned why the county wants to build a new office building when Bailey’s Crossroads has such a high office vacancy rate.

Ravenwood Park resident Carol Turner called the land swap “a bad deal for residents and the homeless.” If the new county office building includes a homeless shelter, it might be worth doing, she said. “Otherwise, it’s worthless."

Turner asked Gross if she is going to recuse herself from a decision on the land swap because John Thillman, who had contributed to Gross’ re-election campaigns, is a principal in Landmark Atlantic, which owns the office building the county wants to purchase.

Thillman “doesn’t have any ownership interest in the property we are talking about,” Gross responded.

Al Cobb, who also lives in Ravenwood Park, raised objections to locating a homeless shelter so close to his neighborhood and asked the board to delay a decision until the community is given more information and more time to comment.

Homeless advocate Esther Armstead spoke about the need for housing that is affordable for people at the lowest income levels and said the homeless shelter shouldn’t be moved until there is a permanent site for it.

Lake Barcroft resident Larry Golfer said the current deal on the table won’t create the vibrant, mixed-use, pedestrian and bicycle-friendly community envisioned in the comprehensive plan for Bailey’s Crossroads approved approved by the BoS in 2010.

Jon Clark of Annandale, a member of the MDC board, said “public involvement in this process has not been up to the standards Fairfax County has expressed it would like to maintain.”

Only two people who spoke at the hearing urged the BoS to approve the land swap.

Martin Howell, a representative of AvalonBay, said the land swap agreement is the culmination of three years of work by AvalonBay, county staff, and the former property owner, the Weissberg Corp. He said the proposal calls for an $86 million investment in the community, which would generate $5 million in fees and taxes to the country for the construction of the project and $1 million a year in property taxes.

“This is the worst stretch of road in Fairfax County,” and it’s a blighted area that needs to be developed, said Bill Lecos of Lake Barcroft. “We’ve talked about Bailey’s Crossroads for 10 years. This is the type of redevelopment we’re looking for,” he said. If the project goes forward, this property will be assessed at over $100 million. “One must look at the return on investment. This is an extraordinary opportunity.”